Most massively multiplayer role-playing games let you create a persistent fantasy character (like an elf) to go out and explore an online world with thousands of other players (also often playing elves) to seek fame and fortune by fighting monsters (which include nonelves, as well as different kinds of elves). LucasArts' Star Wars Galaxies (which is now available for download), takes a somewhat different approach: An online game set in the Star Wars universe that lets you play as a commando, a bounty hunter, a swordsman, or a chef (yes, a chef). But later this year, you'll also be able to play as a fighter pilot, thanks to the upcoming expansion pack, Jump to Lightspeed, which will feature real-time ship-to-ship combat, new classes, and other new features. For more information, we checked in with lead designer Cinco Barnes.
GameSpot: Tell us about the decision to incorporate real-time gameplay into Star Wars Galaxies. Was this considered a natural progression for a studio that has produced space combat games like X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter?
Cinco Barnes: Space combat is part of the natural evolution of Star Wars Galaxies, and has been part of the plan since Raph Koster's initial design. As for the real-time nature of the product, the team has always felt that the excitement of Star Wars' epic space battles could only be captured with fast-action gameplay.
GS: We understand that the Jump to Lightspeed team consists of experienced developers that have worked on such games as the Wing Commander series. What direction does the team want to go in with the expansion's space combat--can we expect to see more arcade-style action or more simulation-style action? Are there specific aspects of previous games (like specific weapons, handling, or tactics) that the developers want to make sure they implement?
CB: Jump to Lightspeed is striving for the right balance of arcade accessibility and simulation depth. The core experience in Jump to Lightspeed is a simple, responsive, seat-of-your-pants starship adventure. But the game really broadens as you advance through your pilot profession.
As you gain skills, your character learns how to use droid programs and special piloting abilities in flight. This is a critical, strategic dimension to space combat. Your use of these abilities adds lots of cool dynamics.
GS: Tell us about what piloting a ship in the expansion will be like. How complex will the flight model be? How closely will players need to monitor control panels, fuel supplies, and navigation controls--will there be ships that allow for multiple passengers so that players can divide these duties among themselves? Any plans to build in support for flightsticks or other controller peripherals for veteran players that are serious about their flying?
CB: You only need your mouse and keyboard to fly your starship in Jump to Lightspeed, and we support joysticks and gamepads. The flight model is simple to get into, but the high-end techniques of spaceflight are challenging to master. Your primary concerns in combat will be your shield, armor, booster-charge level, and weapon-capacitor status. These are clearly visible on your heads-up display. If you want more specific details about the health of each individual ship component on your starfighter (like your missile rack's hit points or your droid interface energy efficiency), you can open a special detailed view while sitting in the cockpit.
Aboard a multipassenger starship, player responsibilities are divided in some pretty cool ways. We are actively building these features right now, so I can't give out details just yet...However, I really look forward to surprising players with what sorts of things go on aboard a YT-1300 in the heat of battle!
GS: How exactly will players prepare for battle? We know that the expansion will introduce a new shipwright crafter class--will this class also be crafting mounted weapons, shields, and other additions for ships, or will players get improvements for their ships by other means?
CB: Before launching, you will probably want to outfit your ship with high-quality components in all categories. Of course, the most important combat parts will be your weapons, shields, and armor. Player shipwrights will build ship pieces and put them up for sale just as Galaxies' crafting professionals do today.
However, there is also a significant loot component to Jump to Lightspeed. Starfighter pilots will find a good number of exotic ship parts while flying missions or through general exploration (of dangerous areas). These looted parts can be used right away, or you can collect them for shipwrights to "reverse-engineer" into special high-performance components.
GS: How does the team expect actual battles will play out, especially those fought by teams of players? Can we expect to see players with different ships and different equipment loadouts playing different roles in battle, such as slower, heavier gunships providing cover fire for smaller strafing ships? Will players be left to their own devices and skills to accomplish their objectives, or will there be support for online voice chat, or other systems in place to help teams coordinate space battles?
CB: Combining the powers of different starship chassis will be a key part of large-scale starship battles. A heavy ship's capacity for heavy ordnance balances very nicely with a light ship's agility, especially when taking down a large-capital ship.
There are no current plans to build a real-time voice chat system that would be unique to Galaxies. With Jump to Lightspeed's action combat, it's important to us that we don't allocate bandwidth outside of the core spaceflight experience.
GS: And what happens at the end of a space battle--we assume that glowing piles of money and treasure don't come floating out of the wreckage of your enemies' ships? What will the rewards for winning a space battle be--experience points, prestige, faction standing, and/or some other kind of material reward?
CB: Loot and credit rewards are automatically transferred to your inventory when you take down an enemy non-player character's ship. Some missions also have automatic rewards that pay out while you are in space. Others require that you return to the quest-giving NPC for the final reward.
As you ascend your chosen pilot profession tree, you will earn starship combat experience. Each skill in each tree requires this XP type. Then once you are a master of your pilot profession, you will start earning "prestige points"--which are used to gain access to special high-end content.
GS: What plans are in place for player-versus-player space battles? Will player-versus-player or player-versus-environment battles occur in open space, or will there be instanced arenas?
CB: All manner of space combat will be taking place in open space. We support player-versus-player combat in a similar fashion to the Galaxies' ground combat system. Players who have declared "overt" status as either Rebel or Imperial are allowed to do battle with one another freely.
GS: Tell us about the space-based missions in the expansion pack. Exactly how will you get a mission, and what sort of tasks will you be required to do?
CB: Each of Jump to Lightspeed's pilot professions has a number of skill-trainer NPCs that provide you with missions. In order to advance, you'll need to complete missions and earn the requisite amount of experience points. Start out by talking to the first-tier NPC trainer. Then, follow the mission storylines until you have learned all of the skills your trainer has to teach.
Jump to Lightspeed has a lot of cool mission types! Some missions will have you patrolling nebulae and asteroid fields to bring dangerous outlaws to justice. In others, you must rescue disabled comrades and protect them from waves of attackers as they limp into hyperspace. There are still other mission types (called "duty missions") that provide continuous, open-ended challenges for players who want to test their endurance...and stockpile good XP in the process.
GS: Thanks, Cinco.